Sport: Playschool of excellence

Andrew Baker discovers the halls of the Science Museum make good sports fields

There was a time when schoolchildren dreaded a trip to the Science Museum, in London. Tantalisingly close to the monstrous delights of the Natural History Museum, it contained behemoths less fascinating than Tyrannosaurus Rex: beam engines, steam pumps, aircraft undercarriages... "Miss, we're bored."

No longer. Science of Sport, a new exhibition which opened last week, is the answer to science teachers' prayers. Its aims are high-minded, befitting its dignified location: to provide an "investigation into the roles science and technology play in sport", but that will not deter junior visitors. They will not be concerned with the purpose of all the gadgetry: they will want to know what they can play with.

The answer is "almost everything". Only the McLaren grand prix car is "hands off". Every other display is very much hands - and in some cases feet, heads and bottoms - on.

The first stop is a potentially depressing machine that computes the visitor's height and ideal weight. Adjacent to this, to reinforce the message, are plastic representations of sportspersons' daily diets. One is designed to make the overweight feel guilty: a typical jockey apparently consumes in a day a tuna sandwich (no butter), a cup of coffee, a piece of steamed fish, two small potatoes, a couple of beans, a piece of fruit and two glasses of wine. Another display will make fatties feel fine: breakfast is egg, sausage, bacon, toast and tea, dollops of cholesterol follow at regular intervals and the day concludes with eight pints of bitter. It is the darter's diet.

But enough of weighty matters - there is fun to be had. The biggest queues on the opening day were for the snowboarding simulation. The spurious reasoning behind this exhibit is the importance of balance to the successful sportsperson. More significant is the importance of whizzy rides to the successful exhibition. Anyway, who cares? Young visitors will be much too busy trying to stay on their bucking boards as they traverse a virtual mountain to worry about why they are doing it.

Some of the other exhibits are of tenuous scientific validity, in particular the bobsled simulator and the gigantic Weeble in American football gear. The latter nevertheless did prove one theory: that children will hurl themselves at anything soft, heavy and wobbly.

Some displays are coaching aids designed to improve skills, like the football penalty shoot-out set-up, the tennis target-shooting game and the basketball hoops placed at escalating heights. Others are more sadistic, like the rowing and cycling machines. Most exhausting (and instructive for the able-bodied) is the sprint wheelchair simulator, which painfully illustrates the strength required of Paralympic athletes.

There is also a "digital sprint track" which sounds impossible but is in fact simply 20 metres of running track linked to a computer. You pop out of the starting blocks and by the time you have panted to the end of the track your performance has been extrapolated over 100 metres and compared unfavourably on digital read-outs with the times of Messrs Christie, Lewis and Co.

There are cerebral pursuits alongside the physical, including two television- based displays hosted by the Mr Annoying of athletics, Kriss Akabusi. One of these takes the form of an interactive quiz, in which each correct answer is greeted with a yell of encouragement from Akabusi. This was not universally popular with older punters on the opening day. "For goodness' sake get a question wrong," one woman instructed her partner. "It might shut him up."

What will shut parents up is the siting of a Foot Locker sports clothing and equipment boutique on the way out of the exhibition space. It seems a shame that what is likely to be a highly effective exercise in enthusing young people about sport should carry such a commercial sting in the tail. But perhaps it is not inappropriate: one science with which sport is becoming ever more familiar is that of separating people from their money.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before